Business Planning for Major Capital Works and Recurrent Services in Local Government

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1 Business Planning for Major Capital Works Business Planning for Major Capital Works September 2011 Victorian Auditor-General s Report Telephone Facsimile :4 Level Collins Street Melbourne Vic September :4

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3 V I C T O R I A Victorian Auditor-General Business Planning for Major Capital Works and Recurrent Services in Local Government Ordered to be printed VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT PRINTER September 2011 PP No 57, Session

4 This report has been produced to ISO14001 environmental standards. It is printed on FSC credited Novatech Satin paper. The print supplier, Blue Star PRINT has initiated an EMS promoting minimisation of environmental impact through the deployment of efficient technology, rigorous quality management procedures and a philosophy of reduce, re-use and recycle. ISBN

5 The Hon. Bruce Atkinson MLC President Legislative Council Parliament House Melbourne The Hon. Ken Smith MP Speaker Legislative Assembly Parliament House Melbourne Dear Presiding Officers Under the provisions of section 16AB of the Audit Act 1994, I transmit my performance report on Business Planning for Major Capital Works and Recurrent Services in Local Government. Yours faithfully D D R PEARSON Auditor-General 14 September 2011 Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works iii

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7 Contents Audit summary... vii Background... vii Conclusion... viii Findings... viii Recommendations... x Submissions and comments received... xi 1. Background Introduction Business planning and budgeting The role of Local Government Victoria Previous audits Audit objectives and scope Method and cost Report structure Adequacy of planning and budgeting Introduction Conclusion Quality of planning Integrating planning and budgeting Local Government Victoria s support to councils Soundness of investment decisions Introduction Conclusion Investment in capital works Investment in services Appendix A. Audit Act 1994 section 16 submissions and comments Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works v

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9 Audit summary Background Victoria s 79 councils collectively spend around $7.6 billion on capital works and recurrent services each year, and manage over $60 billion of community assets and infrastructure such as libraries, halls, leisure facilities, parks, roads, and bridges that people use every day. Councils therefore are custodians of significant public funds, and it is important that the public has assurance that this expenditure is effectively planned, budgeted and managed so that it meets community needs both now and into the future. In 2003 the Local Government Act 1989 (the Act) was amended, introducing significant change. This included electoral reforms to ensure more democratic representation, governance changes to improve transparency and probity, and more accountable financial management and public reporting. Following the 2003 legislative reforms a key change was the introduction of a new planning framework for local government. The framework aims to achieve more effective strategic planning for municipalities through greater public input to the development of council plans and budgets, and greater accountability by councils through more transparent performance reporting. These changes complement previous amendments to the Act in 1999 that introduced the Best Value Principles that encourage councils to engage with their communities more, and to make their services more affordable for and responsive to their communities. Both the Act and the 2006 Inter-Governmental Agreement Establishing Principles Guiding Inter-governmental Relations on Local Government Matters (the Agreement) commit councils to exercising sound financial management, to strengthen the quality of their planning and budgeting, and to consider the longer-term effects of their decisions. As councils have had eight years to implement the 2003 legislative reforms, it is timely to review whether their planning and budgeting for assets and services have improved. This audit examined Glen Eira City Council, City of Whittlesea, South Gippsland Shire Council and Hepburn Shire Council as a representative selection of councils to determine whether they had effectively integrated their planning and budgeting, considered the long-term sustainability of selected investments and produced accurate and reliable budgets and forecasts. Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works vii

10 Audit summary Conclusion The 2003 amendments to the Act introduced major reforms designed to strengthen councils planning, financial management and accountability. It is clear, however, that the intent of these reforms has not been realised. Focusing on acquitting their minimum statutory obligations, councils have developed plans and budgets without paying sufficient attention to whether they are either effectively integrated or whether they contain useful and appropriate information that supports effective decision-making. Until they integrate and improve the quality of their planning and budgeting, councils will find it difficult to justify annual rate increases and effectively negotiate for equitable grant and other funding arrangements. While Glen Eira generally manages its planning and budgeting well, considerable improvement is still required by the other three councils examined before they can provide adequate assurance to ratepayers they are spending their funds appropriately and effectively. The absence of robust strategic, operational and financial plans supporting annual budget decisions at these councils means they cannot demonstrate that they are effectively managing their costs or that their expenditure decisions are sound. Findings Adequacy of planning and budgeting Glen Eira s strategic, operational and financial plans were generally sound, but there was substantial room for improvement in the other three councils examined. Strategic and operational objectives were not clearly specified, nor were they supported by soundly developed strategies, actions and performance indicators. Operational plans also lacked sufficient detail on the service levels, resources and responsibilities required for achieving objectives. These councils also did not adequately link their plans, nor did their corporate and divisional business plans align clearly with, and demonstrably support, the objectives and strategies in their council plans. Longer-term financial plans, four-year strategic resource plans and annual budgets were largely consistent and aligned. However, expenditure and asset investment decisions were driven primarily by a focus on improving financial ratios, rather than by priorities emanating from service and asset planning. viii Business Planning for Major Capital Works Victorian Auditor-General s Report

11 Audit summary While all councils had long-term financial plans going out years, there was little assurance they were soundly based because they were not adequately supported by equivalent strategic and/or service and asset management plans. Further, none of the councils examined could demonstrate they adequately consulted their communities on the financial and other consequences of their aspirations when initially developing their council plans. Glen Eira mitigated this through its ongoing program of community consultation informing its annual Best Value reviews, service delivery decisions and business cases for capital projects, but this was not so at the other councils. About $1.6 billion, or 60 per cent of the total value of assets at the three councils were not supported by a sound asset management plan. While Glen Eira s asset management framework was generally sound, significant deficiencies were evident at the other councils. None had up-to-date asset management policies, strategies and plans covering all their major classes of assets. Further, this issue had previously been raised for Whittlesea in our 2002 audit, Management of Roads by Local Government, and for South Gippsland in our 2005 audit, Results of Special Reviews and Other Investigations. It was not evident that these earlier audit findings had been addressed. Recognising the need to improve their planning and budgeting both Whittlesea and South Gippsland have started implementing changes to their practices. Similarly, Hepburn advised that it intends to act on this audit to address weaknesses identified. Whittlesea adopted a new planning framework in March 2011 which superseded a more simplistic version in place since The new framework aims to establish a clear link between the council plan, corporate plan and annual report. South Gippsland also adopted a new integrated planning framework in April 2011, and has since initiated action to achieve greater alignment between its annual budget and the priorities identified in its council plan. Further, Whittlesea, South Gippsland and Hepburn have also recently taken steps to improve their asset management practices. Local Government Victoria (LGV) in the Department of Planning and Community Development has a role to support best practice and continuous development in local government governance, performance and service delivery. LGV has developed several good practice guidelines to assist councils improve their strategic planning, asset management and performance reporting. However, the consistency of the shortcomings observed across the councils examined indicates that LGV needs to provide more definitive support for councils to improve the quality of their planning and to better link this to their budgeting decisions. Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works ix

12 Audit summary Soundness of investment decisions Whittlesea, South Gippsland and Hepburn could not demonstrate that councillors received enough information to assess if their proposed investment decisions were sound, or if they were providing community services at an appropriate cost and quality. Glen Eira s capital works investments were generally supported by sound business cases but the other councils examined could not demonstrate the merits and long-term viability of their capital works projects. Business cases were not developed, and there was little evidence they had considered life cycle costs, the cost-effectiveness of alternative options, or how the project connected with the council plan and wider asset management strategy. There was also little evidence that these councils regularly reviewed their services in accordance with the Best Value Principles to inform future spending decisions. Thus, there is little assurance their ongoing expenditures are supported by an adequate understanding of community need or the effectiveness and efficiency of their services. Whittlesea has a number of initiatives underway designed to improve its investments in capital works and recurrent services. A new major projects department is being established with responsibility for coordinating the capital works program and implementing a project management framework initiated in Business cases will also be required to support all capital works undertaken from 2011, and all departments will be required to demonstrate compliance with the Best Value Principles in developing their business unit plans. Recommendations Number Recommendation Page 1. Councils should: 18 consult with, and engage, their communities on their ability and willingness to pay for desired services and assets when developing their initial council plans better integrate their planning and budgeting practices to support sound decision-making develop strategic and supporting divisional business plans for all major services, with measurable objectives clearly aligned to their council plans review their asset management frameworks to assure their asset policies, strategies and plans are up-to-date, cover all major asset classes, and adequately inform future investment decisions. x Business Planning for Major Capital Works Victorian Auditor-General s Report

13 Audit summary Recommendations continued Number Recommendation Page 2. Local Government Victoria should: systematically review the adequacy of council planning and budgeting and, in consultation with stakeholders, provide better targeted support and assistance to councils to address identified weaknesses monitor the impact of these support initiatives to inform its future continuous development efforts. 3. Councils should: develop business cases for proposed investments in major capital works to demonstrate they are soundly based and that they support the achievement of the council s service delivery objectives rigorously analyse service need, value-for-money, cost, and financial sustainability against defined standards consistent with the Best Value Principles to inform investments in recurrent services Submissions and comments received In addition to progressive engagement during the course of the audit, in accordance with section 16(3) of the Audit Act 1994 a copy of this report, or relevant extracts from the report, was provided to the Department of Planning and Community Development, Glen Eira City Council, City of Whittlesea, South Gippsland Shire Council and Hepburn Shire Council with a request for submissions or comments. The Glen Eira City Council acknowledged the request and elected not to make a submission. Submissions were received from the Department of Planning and Community Development, City of Whittlesea, South Gippsland Shire Council and Hepburn Shire Council. Agency views have been considered in reaching our audit conclusions and are represented to the extent relevant and warranted in preparing this report. Their full section 16(3) submissions and comments however, are included in Appendix A. Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works xi

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15 1 Background 1.1 Introduction Councils role in infrastructure and service delivery Victoria s 79 councils spend around $1.6 billion on capital works each year and collectively maintain over $60 billion of community assets and infrastructure such as town halls, leisure facilities, libraries, parks, roads, bridges and drains, that people use every day. They use these assets and spend a further $6 billion annually to deliver a wide range of services including waste management, recreation, aged, family, and other human services. Figure 1A provides a break down of council recurrent expenditure across the sector. Figure 1A Recurrent expenditure for all councils % 14% 16% Governance and administration Family and community services Aged and disability services 11% 5% 10% 8% Recreation and culture Waste management Traffic and street management Environmental services Business and economic services Roads 8% Other 8% 18% Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on information from the Victorian Grants Commission. Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works 1

16 Background Principles of sound financial management While the infrastructure and service needs of each municipality can vary, all councils need to manage their finances responsibly to assure their services and facilities meet community needs. The Local Government Act 1989 The Local Government Act 1989 (the Act) was amended in 2003 to include a requirement that councils apply principles of sound financial management to their planning and budgeting. These principles require councils to: prudently manage financial risks having regard to economic circumstances pursue spending and rating policies that are consistent with a reasonable degree of stability in the level of the rates burden ensure that decisions made and actions taken have regard to their financial effects on future generations ensure full, accurate and timely disclosure of financial information relating to the council. Inter-governmental agreement The 2006 Inter-Governmental Agreement Establishing Principles Guiding Inter-Governmental Relations on Local Government Matters further commits councils to sound public governance through good fiscal management, to consider resources and priorities when making decisions, and to improving their strategic planning and developing appropriate pricing regimes. Sound planning and budgeting helps councils to understand and mitigate the risks of cost shifting. This occurs when other levels of government shift the cost of providing joint services on to local government without a commensurate level of funding support. 1.2 Business planning and budgeting Effective business planning and budgeting are the basis for sound decision-making Requirements under the Local Government Act 1989 The amendments to the Act in 2003 also introduced new corporate and financial planning requirements designed to better align strategic planning with annual planning. The four-year council plan sets out the strategic objectives of the council, strategies for meeting them, and performance indicators for monitoring their achievement. A strategic resource plan underpins the council plan, and identifies the financial and non-financial resources needed to meet the objectives. 2 Business Planning for Major Capital Works Victorian Auditor-General s Report

17 Background The annual budget describes the activities, initiatives and financial requirements for the year. It should also set out how the activities will contribute to achieving the strategic objectives as well as performance measures and targets for a number of key strategic activities. Best Value Principles The Act also sets out the Best Value Principles that should inform council decisions on services. The application of these principles aims to improve local government services by making them affordable and responsive to local needs, and to encourage councils to engage with their communities in shaping councils services and activities. The Act identifies the following six principles to guide how a service should be monitored and reviewed on an ongoing basis: all services should be responsive to community needs each service should be accessible to those community members to whom the service is intended a council should achieve continuous improvement in the provision of services to its community a council should develop a program of regular consultation with its community in relation to the services it provides all services provided to the community should meet cost and quality standards set by the council. Regular service reviews in accordance with the Best Value Principles enable a council to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of its services, and to take action where necessary to assure its services continue to meet the community s needs Integrated business planning and budgeting Local Government Professionals (LGPro) 2008 Embedding Community Priorities into Council Planning: Guidelines for the Integration of Community and Council Planning outlines numerous benefits to councils in linking their longer-term community plans with their shorter-term service, asset and council plans, and with their annual budgets and operational plans such as corporate and divisional business plans. Key benefits include aligning the council plan with community values and priorities, and enabling longer-term service delivery and resource allocation decisions that extend beyond the four-year council planning cycle. The state s Sustaining Local Assets policy similarly highlights the importance of integrating asset management with councils financial, business and budgetary planning. Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works 3

18 Background Figure 1B, based on these guides, shows how strategic planning, operational planning and budgeting should integrate. The shaded components are those required under the Act. The other components, particularly longer-term strategic and financial planning, represent better practices which are mandated in other jurisdictions such as New Zealand, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. Figure 1B Planning and budgeting framework Community engagement Strategic and operational planning Financial planning and budgets Long-term strategic plan (10+ years) Long-term financial plan (10+ years) Community consultation Council plan (4+ years) Strategic resource plan (4+ years) Service strategies/plans (3-5 years) Asset management plans (10+ years) Annual operational business plans Annual budget Source: Victorian Auditor-General s Office. While not mandated under the Act, 10 to 20 year strategic and financial plans would assist councils acquit their obligation to plan for future generations, and provide contextual clarity for developing shorter-term council plans and annual budgets. In this context, the council plan, which summarises the financial impact of its goals and objectives over four years, would relate both to the longer-term strategic and financial plans of council, and form the basis for annual budget proposals. Decisions on capital works, including new projects, and changes to service delivery should be supported by service and asset management strategies, and should also clearly align with priorities in the council plan. Putting the Best Value Principles into action can help a council improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its planning and budgeting. In 2006, the LGPro Corporate Planner s Network in partnership with the Best Value Commission and Local Government Victoria (LGV) released A guide to achieving a whole of organisation approach to Best Value. 4 Business Planning for Major Capital Works Victorian Auditor-General s Report

19 Background The guide emphasises the value of community consultation, responsiveness to their needs, and accessibility of services to improve the way in which councils plan, and the quality of the plans themselves. Figure 1C, drawn from the guide, outlines how the Best Value Principles can add value to council planning processes. Figure 1C Applying Best Value Principles to council planning Best Value Planning document Principle How Best Value can add value Community plan/ longer-term vision The longer-term vision documents should be formed from consultation. Council plan The council plan describes the outcomes to be achieved from services and the performance indicators to measure them against. Strategic resource plan This details how the council plan objectives will be resourced, and is updated annually. Service/business plan Outlines the strategies and actions for achieving the council plan goals and objectives. Consult with the community Respond to community needs Consult with the community Respond to community needs Continuous improvement Quality and cost standards Consult with the community Respond to community needs Quality and cost standards Be accessible Continuous improvement Best Value encourages councils to develop their plans by consulting the local community and other stakeholders. The community plan should reflect current and proposed community and user needs. Outcome measures should be linked to the council plan goals. The council plan documents the scope of services agreed in consultation with the community, councillors and staff. The council plan documents council s understanding of the community s needs and expectations, as well as mechanisms/strategies for planning for and managing changing needs. Best Value can be included as a council plan objective for continuous improvement. Councils should assess value-for-money from services and take into account affordability and accessibility. Councils can use the process of developing service/business plans to consult further on the needs of specific service users or beneficiaries. The service/business plan documents the service scope, and this should reflect the needs of the general community and users, within the available resources. The service/business plan documents the standards to which the service will be delivered. The standards should at least address quality and cost. The service/business plan should identify barriers to accessibility and how they will be addressed through actions. The service/business plan should document continuous improvement strategies and actions, and measures of performance improvement. Source: A guide to achieving a whole of organisation approach to Best Value, Local Government Professionals (2006). Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works 5

20 Background 1.3 The role of Local Government Victoria LGV in the Department of Planning and Community Development has a role to encourage and support best practice and continuous development in local government governance, performance and service delivery. The Act requires councils to submit their council plan and annual budget to the Minister for Local Government through LGV. However, LGV does not scrutinise the basis of individual council plans and budgets. LGV has developed several good practice guidelines to assist councils to improve their strategic planning, asset management and performance reporting. The April 2009 guide Measuring Up: Linking Planning and Performance, focuses on the links between performance reporting and strategic planning, especially the relationship between a council plan and other documents. Similarly, the March 2009 booklet account-ability sets out councillors responsibilities in relation to understanding accountability, and highlights the importance of sound financial management including the need for long-, medium- and short-term planning. LGV s December 2007 report Planning Together: the lessons from local government community planning in Victoria, presents numerous case studies that highlight the differing approaches to community planning adopted by councils, and the need for it to be more integrated with council plans and other planning cycles. LGV also developed the state s December 2003 Sustaining Local Assets policy to guide the strategic management of council assets. The policy outlines principles to guide asset management planning and decision-making that focus on: assuring service delivery needs form the basis of asset management integrating asset management with corporate, financial, business and budgetary planning informed decision-making, incorporating a life-cycle approach to asset management establishing accountability and responsibility for asset condition, use and performance sustainability, providing for present needs while sustaining resources for future generations. The starting point for each council in implementing these principles is to create their own asset policy which establishes the framework for the preparation of their asset management strategy and plan. The Sustaining Local Assets policy is also supported by the following guidelines designed to help councils put the principles into practice: Guidelines for Developing an Asset Management Policy, August 2004 which provide direction to councils in the preparation of their asset management policy, strategy and plan. 6 Business Planning for Major Capital Works Victorian Auditor-General s Report

21 Background Local Government Asset Investment Guidelines, August 2006 which assists councils with their asset planning, appraisal and delivery of capital projects including the preparation of business cases. The Municipal Association of Victoria s Asset Management Improvement STEP program started in 2003 and is supported by consultants who work with councils to assess and assist them improve their local asset management practices. The STEP program recognises the importance of sound asset management and planning as an essential component of effective service delivery. 1.4 Previous audits Over the past decade VAGO has tabled a number of reports relating to asset management and capital budgeting in local government including: Local Government: Results of the audits, November 2008 Managing Stormwater Flooding Risks in Melbourne, July 2005 Chapter 10 of Results of Special Reviews and Other Investigations, May 2005, titled Capital Budgeting and Management by Local Government Management of Roads by Local Government, June These reviews have consistently revealed the need for councils to improve their management of capital expenditure programs; their asset management frameworks and plans; and the linkages between their asset management plans, corporate and business planning and budgetary processes. 1.5 Audit objectives and scope The objective of this audit was to determine the effectiveness of council business planning and budgeting for major capital works and recurrent services. Specifically, for a representative selection of councils the audit assessed whether they: had effectively integrated business planning and budgeting practices to address community needs sufficiently considered the long-term financial sustainability of proposed investments in major capital works and recurrent services produced accurate and reliable budgets and forecasts. The audit examined the business planning and budgeting practices for a sample of capital works and recurrent services at the following councils: Glen Eira City Council an inner metropolitan municipality City of Whittlesea an outer metropolitan municipality South Gippsland Shire Council a large rural municipality Hepburn Shire Council a small rural municipality. The audit examined the planning and budgeting practices at the selected councils during the period to Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works 7

22 Background The audit also examined the role of the Department of Planning and Community Development in overseeing and supporting continuous improvement of council planning and budgeting practices Snapshot of audited councils Figure 1D provides a brief overview of each of the four councils we examined. Figure 1D Overview of audited councils Glen Eira City Council is an established and culturally diverse municipality located in the inner south-east metropolitan area of Victoria. It covers an area of 38.7 km² and has a relatively stable population of more than which is expected to increase to by In Glen Eira had a budgeted income of $109.3 million, capital works expenditure of $52.9 million and recurrent expenditure of $102.1 million. The City of Whittlesea is an outer northern metropolitan municipality with an area of 487 km² and a resident population of around It has the third most culturally diverse population in Victoria and is currently the second fastest growth municipality in Australia. The population is presently increasing by people every year and forecast to reach around by In Whittlesea had a budgeted income of $142.7 million, capital works expenditure of $57.1 million and recurrent expenditure of $140.5 million. South Gippsland Shire Council is a large rural municipality located in Victoria s south-east with an area of km². It has a resident population of around which is forecast to increase to by South Gippsland is home to prominent tourist sites such as Wilsons Promontory National Park, Agnes Falls, and Coal Creek Community Park and Museum. In South Gippsland had a budgeted income of $40.1 million, capital works expenditure of $15.1 million and recurrent expenditure of $41.9 million. Hepburn Shire Council is a small rural municipality located in central Victoria with an area of km². It has a resident population of around which is expected to increase to by It is a popular tourist area due to the mineral springs around Daylesford-Hepburn Springs. In Hepburn had a budgeted income of $23.1 million, capital works expenditure of $11.3 million and recurrent expenditure of $21.8 million. Source: Victorian Auditor-General s Office. 1.6 Method and cost The audit was performed in accordance with the Australian Auditing and Assurance Standards. The cost of the audit including printing was $ Report structure The report is structured as follows: Part 2 examines the adequacy of planning and budgeting Part 3 examines soundness of investment decisions. 8 Business Planning for Major Capital Works Victorian Auditor-General s Report

23 2 Adequacy of planning and budgeting At a glance Background Where councils planning and budgeting is of a high quality, communities can have greater confidence that councils provide services that respond to their expectations, and are planning for the needs of current and future generations. Conclusion Glen Eira generally manages its planning and budgeting well. However at the other councils there is substantial scope to improve the quality of their plans, and to better align these with budgets. Findings The quality of the plans submitted to the Minister for Local Government varied considerably and there is substantial scope for improvement. About $1.6 billion in assets, or 60 per cent of the total value of assets controlled by the three councils were not supported by a sound asset management plan. Apart from Glen Eira, strategic, operational and financial plans were not aligned to assure a coordinated strategic approach. Recommendations Councils should: consult with, and engage, their communities on their ability and willingness to pay for desired services and assets when developing their initial council plans better integrate their planning and budgeting practices develop strategic and supporting divisional business plans for all major services review their asset management frameworks. Local Government Victoria should more purposefully support councils in improving their business planning and budgeting and monitor the impact of these initiatives. Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works 9

24 Adequacy of planning and budgeting 2.1 Introduction Effective business planning and budgeting is critical to sound decision-making. The Local Government Act 1989 (the Act) does not require councils to produce a long-term strategic or financial plan. It does, however, require their decisions and actions to have regard to the financial effects on future generations. Thus, while not specifically mandated under the Act, developing such plans is good practice as it assists them in meeting this obligation. These plans would also assist in developing shorter-term service, asset and council plans, including annual budgets and operational plans such as organisation-wide corporate plans and lower-level departmental business plans. Developing good quality plans is central to assuring that councils effectively and efficiently meet community needs. This requires engaging with local communities on the feasibility of their immediate and long-term priorities. It also requires measurable objectives linked to these priorities supported by clear strategies, actions and performance monitoring, and clearly identifying the service levels, resources and responsibilities for achieving them. By closely integrating their strategic, operating and financial plans councils will be better assured that their services are sufficiently funded and delivered at an appropriate cost to the public. This requires that the goals and objectives of their four-year council plan clearly relate to their longer-term strategic and financial plans and that these form the basis of annual budget proposals. Additionally, changes to service delivery, including decisions on capital works and new projects, should be supported by service and asset management strategies and clearly aligned with priorities in the council plan. These initiatives should also be reflected in annual operational plans such as the council s corporate plan and in departmental business plans. This part reviews the adequacy of strategic planning, financial management, and budgeting at the selected councils. It specifically examines the quality of developed plans, and whether the councils strategic, operating and financial plans are sufficiently aligned to assure sound decision-making. 10 Business Planning for Major Capital Works Victorian Auditor-General s Report

25 Adequacy of planning and budgeting 2.2 Conclusion Glen Eira s planning and budgeting is well integrated and generally effective. However, the quality of the strategic, financial and asset management plans at the three remaining councils is poor. Objectives, strategies and actions were not clearly specified nor linked to useful performance indicators. Community input into the development of council plans was limited, and these plans, including shorter-term operational plans, are not underpinned by rigorous service and asset management strategies. Consequently, the plans are not sufficiently integrated and do not align well with their annual budgets. Accordingly there is little assurance that these three councils have sufficiently identified community needs, that they have appropriate strategies in place to address them, and that they have made sound budget decisions. 2.3 Quality of planning There was significant scope to improve the quality of the strategic, operational and financial plans of three of the four councils examined. Glen Eira had an ongoing program of community consultation, but the remaining three councils had not adequately consulted their communities on the feasibility of their priorities in initially developing their council plans. Strategic and operational objectives were not clearly specified, nor were they supported by soundly developed strategies, actions and performance indicators. Operational plans also lacked sufficient detail on the required service levels, resources needed and responsibilities for achieving objectives Community consultation Council planning begins with consulting the community on its needs and expectations for the future, and its ability and willingness to pay for services and assets. The community needs to be well-informed on the social, environmental and financial implications of its aspirations to give the council reliable guidance on its long-term direction. Glen Eira, South Gippsland and Hepburn have a community engagement policy but only Glen Eira applied it as intended when developing its council plan. South Gippsland and Hepburn could not demonstrate they had adequately sought, considered and analysed community expectations when initially formulating their council plan objectives and strategies. Although both councils sought community feedback after their draft plan was developed, there is little assurance the plans adequately reflect residents aspirations as the community was not party to its initial development. Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works 11

26 Adequacy of planning and budgeting Whittlesea does not have a community engagement policy for its council plan. In 2008 it committed to implementing one by 2010, but this is yet to occur. However, it did consult the community on new projects and in formulating its council plan but did not inform the community about the financial and other consequences of its aspirations, or about the efficiency and effectiveness of council s services. So although the results of the consultation were well documented, analysed and considered by the council, it was not evident that it had received fully informed feedback from the community. There was also little evidence to indicate that this had occurred at the other councils when initially formulating their council plans. Glen Eira mitigated this through its ongoing program of community consultation informing its annual Best Value reviews, service delivery decisions and business cases for capital projects, but this was not so at the other councils examined. Whittlesea advised that it was in the process of developing a community engagement policy in consultation with community representatives and that it expected to finalise this by December Strategic and operational planning Long-term strategic plans Only Whittlesea had developed a long-term strategic plan that outlined its vision to Glen Eira indicated that it intends to start consultation on the development of a 10-year community plan in mid Although Whittlesea s strategic plan outlines the long-term vision of the council, in itself it does not provide sufficient assurance that the long-term financial plan is reliable as its development has not been informed by long-term service and asset planning. Council plans All of the councils examined had a four-year council plan as required by the Act covering their medium-term objectives; the actions to achieve the objectives and the indicators that measure progress towards them. However these plans had limitations and weaknesses at three of the four councils examined. South Gippsland s council plan scheduled 60 per cent of its actions for completion in the current year, rather than over the plan s four-year term. South Gippsland has since acknowledged this is unachievable and has developed a draft annual plan with more realistic targets. 12 Business Planning for Major Capital Works Victorian Auditor-General s Report

27 Adequacy of planning and budgeting Whittlesea s plan confuses lower-level operational tasks with longer-term strategic objectives. It contains 115 strategies linked to 30 strategic outcomes, but many of these are lower level divisional activities, not high level strategies. In recognition of this, Whittlesea began a review of its plan in 2010 to more clearly distinguish its strategies from operational tasks. A new business planning framework has since been adopted and progress has been made in embedding this into council s strategic planning activities for the financial year. Hepburn s plan does not clearly articulate the council s strategic objectives. While it sets out the councils key commitments for achieving Good Governance, A More Prosperous Economy, Healthy Safe and Vibrant Communities, and Environmental Sustainability, these are aspirational and do not adequately articulate specifically what the council is aiming to achieve. Consequently, they are difficult to measure. Hepburn s performance indicators were not specific and had no targets. Three-quarters of the performance indicators in the remaining three council plans focused on activities, such as completion of capital works, implementation of a strategy or preparation of a report. As these indicators do not describe the expected impact of the activity they offer little insight into the achievement of objectives and intended outcomes. Further, at South Gippsland and Whittlesea, their council plans contained 193 and 177 indicators respectively, making them difficult to manage and monitor. Corporate plans All councils had corporate or annual plans, but only Glen Eira s, South Gippsland s and Whittlesea s included specific yearly actions, targets and indicators. However, the weaknesses identified in supporting service and divisional business plans at Whittlesea, South Gippsland and Hepburn means there is little assurance at these councils that their corporate or annual plans were adequately focused on achieving the council plan. Service strategies and plans Only Glen Eira and Hepburn had strategic plans for the three services examined aged care, children and recreation which outline service aims and strategies and were based on community consultation. South Gippsland and Whittlesea had yet to develop strategies for their aged care services, and those in place for their children s services were out of date as they were linked to their previous council plans. Similarly, Whittlesea had no approved plan for its recreation services. Without approved strategies and plans there is little assurance these councils have adequately identified the service types and levels required to meet community needs, or that appropriate strategies are in place to assure these needs are effectively and efficiently met. Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works 13

28 Adequacy of planning and budgeting Whittlesea advised that its service plan for children services was in the process of being updated and that adoption of its draft recreation plan by council was imminent. Divisional business unit plans Other than Hepburn, all councils had divisional business plans covering the services examined, but those at Whittlesea and South Gippsland were deficient. These plans did not adequately identify the nature and level of services each council was responsible for, or the associated risk and mitigation strategies, and resource requirements. Hence there was little assurance their annual budget decisions were based on a rigorous analysis of resource needs. Additionally, these councils did not systematically monitor and report on their performance against divisional business plans and the council plan to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of their service delivery and to inform future planning. Thus, there was little assurance their business plans adequately supported the achievement of the council plan aims. Both Whittlesea and South Gippsland have acknowledged the need to improve their planning and are developing new divisional business plan templates to cover details on service standards, risks and financial information, and how they link to the council plan. Whittlesea has established a Business Planning Steering Committee to oversee the implementation of the new divisional business plans. South Gippsland also advised that it has begun developing quality and cost standards for its services and that it has initiated training for its staff in developing business plans to emphasise these requirements. Asset management plans About $1.6 billion in assets, or 60 percent of the total value of assets controlled by Whittlesea, South Gippsland and Hepburn councils were not supported by sound asset management plans. This is a continuing weakness previously raised for Whittlesea in our 2002 audit, Management of Roads by Local Government, and for South Gippsland in our 2005 audit, the Results of Special Reviews and Other Investigations. Neither council has yet improved its practices sufficiently. All four councils are using the Municipal Association of Victoria s STEP planning process to help improve their asset management planning. Benchmarking audits in 2010 found Glen Eira s asset management framework was generally outperforming the local government sector. However, the benchmarking audits in the other three councils recommended a number of priority actions. These included the need to review and update asset policies and strategies, develop asset management plans for all major classes of assets linked to the long-term financial plan, and the need to develop service standards and targets. As yet none of the three councils has an asset management framework complying with the state s Sustaining Local Assets policy, which requires a council to develop a local asset management policy, strategy and plans for all major classes of assets. 14 Business Planning for Major Capital Works Victorian Auditor-General s Report

29 Adequacy of planning and budgeting In the absence of a robust asset management framework, these councils cannot accurately determine their capital expenditure needs or assure that these needs are adequately reflected in their long-term financial plans or annual budgets. South Gippsland affirmed this situation and advised that there are potentially significant funding requirements for pools, waste management and buildings within its municipality that are currently not reflected in the long-term financial plan because of the absence of adequate asset management plans. Recognising the need to strengthen their asset management practices these councils have taken steps to improve their asset management. Specifically, Whittlesea advised it is prioritising its resources to improve its asset data and that it intends to commence developing asset management plans for the already identified priority areas. South Gippsland advised it initiated and completed the Australian Centre of Excellence for Asset Management Stepwatch Program for both its buildings and roads portfolios in the past 12 months. South Gippsland intends to use the insights gained to establish a link between service delivery and asset planning. Hepburn established a Service and Asset Working Group in 2010 whose role is to review existing asset management practices and assure a coordinated and integrated approach to asset management across the council Financial planning Long-term financial plans All four councils examined had a long-term financial plan covering 10 to 15 years, designed to assure services are provided in a financially sustainable manner. However, they were not paired with equivalent long-term strategic plans in any council except Whittlesea. Further, although these plans were based on assumptions about future demand, the observed weaknesses in service planning and asset management at Whittlesea, South Gippsland and Hepburn means there is little assurance their long-term financial plans accurately reflect future needs. In the absence of defined service standards and soundly developed asset management plans, the long-term financial plans of these councils have been developed focusing on progressively improving financial ratios to strengthen each council s financial position. As a result, these ratios in isolation rather than in conjunction with rigorous service planning have driven their divisional plans and annual budget decisions. Victorian Auditor-General s Report Business Planning for Major Capital Works 15

30 Adequacy of planning and budgeting Strategic resource plans The audit compared each council s current operating and capital works budgets with the forecasts published in their strategic resource plans to assess the accuracy and reliability of their budgeting and forecasting. The variances in total revenue and expenditure were not material. However, the councils had greater difficulty estimating future capital expenditure, with variances of 14 per cent in Glen Eira, 19 per cent at Hepburn and in excess of 50 per cent for both Whittlesea and South Gippsland. South Gippsland staff noted that the uncertainty and timing of Commonwealth and state government grant approvals for capital works affected the accuracy of their planning and budgeting. At Whittlesea, the council advised that the budget includes unspent allocations of $15.8 million from the previous year which were not included in the initial Strategic Resource Plan. In addition there was a further variation of around $3.8 million as not all capital works projects adopted in the budget were considered fixed. Annual budgets The annual budget process at all councils informs councillors in a timely way of the assumptions underpinning the budget. However, the shortcomings identified at Whittlesea, South Gippsland and Hepburn mean there is little assurance councillors have sufficient, appropriate information to assess the soundness of proposed investment decisions or whether services are of appropriate cost and quality. 2.4 Integrating planning and budgeting Whittlesea, South Gippsland and Hepburn did not adequately integrate their council plans and budgets to assure councillors could make fully informed and sound decisions. Nor did their corporate and divisional business plans clearly align with, and demonstrably support, the objectives and strategies in their council plans. Longer-term financial plans, four-year strategic resource plans and annual budgets were largely consistent and therefore demonstrably aligned. However, expenditure and asset investment decisions are primarily driven by a focus on improving financial ratios, rather than by priorities emanating from service and asset planning. These councils require closer integration between their operational plans and their council plan. Hepburn did not have divisional business plans to support and implement its council plan. Hence there was little assurance its activities were appropriately focused on achieving its strategic objectives. 16 Business Planning for Major Capital Works Victorian Auditor-General s Report

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